Our Toronto Maple Leafs 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
Last season the Toronto Maple Leafs were 3rd in the Atlantic with a 36-25-9 record and 81 points. They were eliminated by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Qualifying Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in a best-of-5 game series. It was quite heartbreaking for fans to once again get knocked out early, this time even before the first round, and it wasn’t even against Boston. So how did they end up there?
At the beginning of the season the main storyline was if and for how much Mitch Marner would sign for. In September he ended up signing a six year contract with an annual average value of $10.893 million. Because he held out, and wanted big money, the fanbase has turned on him a little bit. He’s a hometown guy who most people expected would take a discount to play with the team. I’m a little torn, because he is a very talented player and deserves to be paid, but it undoubtedly hurts the team’s ability to compete since they are spending $30+ million on three forwards. Perhaps this is more of an issue with the team composition then specifically an issue with Marner though. If you compare to teams like Colorado and Pittsburgh, where the stars make a little less, they have been able to fill in some more depth around those key guys. That being said, the Leafs were poised to be successful again. They had Matthews, Tavares, Marner all locked down, a solid goaltender in Andersen, and a new offensive defenseman in Tyson Barrie.
Regardless of all the positives, the Leafs were off to a slow start with a 9-10-4 record. This was when head coach Mike Babcock was fired. The team was too good to be struggling that hard and a shake up was definitely needed. Due to widely publicized drama between Dubas and Babcock this had been expected for a little while. Although Babs was fired for the team’s overall poor on ice performance, it later came out that he had some off ice issues as well. To replace him, the team brought up Sheldon Keefe, who had been coaching the Toronto Marlies for some time. This was no surprise to anyone since Keefe and General Manager Kyle Dubas have worked together for a very long time, dating back to junior hockey. Keefe brought a new attitude to the club and it had immediate effects, and the team turned their season around. Their record under Keefe was 27-15-5.
Some of the issues the team faced under both Babcock and Keefe was as struggling defense and competent backup goaltending. Tyson Barrie did not work out for the team as well as hoped. Barrie was known as a powerplay point man in his career, but only amassed 12 powerplay points in 70 games. Despite that, he did put up 39 points in 70 games which is great. The downside was he was not good defensively. He started over 58% of his 5on5 time in the offensive zone. Out of everyone on the team since the start of the season, only Nylander and Matthews started more often in the attacking zone. Another issue with Barrie in the lineup was that he and Morgan Rielly split time on the first powerplay unit, meaning that neither could get a groove going with the rest of the unit.
The team was 27th in the league for goals against with 227. Part of that can be attributed to weak defense with Barrie and Ceci not being great defenders. However the weak goaltending can also be pointed to. Freddy Andersen had to play way too much, as the team struggled to find a competent backup. Andersen started 52 games in a 70 game season for the team. His numbers were not great with only a .909 save percentage and a 2.85 GAA. Competent, but I believe if he started less those would improve. Michael Hutchinson tried to fill in, starting in 11 games, but he went 4-9-1 with a .886 save percentage and a 3.66 GAA. Kasimir Kaskisuo was called up for one game where he let in 6 goals. In early February Leafs nation’s prayers were answered when the club acquired Jack Campbell and Kyle Clifford from the LA Kings in exchange for Trevor Moore and two 3rd round picks. Jack Campbell came in and started 6 games for the Leafs before the break. He had a .915 save percentage and a 2.63 GAA. While again not shockingly good numbers, he was stable which is exactly what the team needed.
Although they faced some issues in the defensive zone, the team could score. Rather than the goalie bailing the team out and stealing wins, it was the offense. They were 3rd in the league for goals for with 238. Auston Matthews had 47 goals and 33 assists for 80 points in 70 games. Marner had 70 points with 51 assists in 59 games, and both John Tavares and William Nylander were around 60 points. They also had a fair bit of secondary scoring behind these main guys as well.
In the off season, Kyle Dubas was active on both the trade and free agent side. For once he didn’t have to worry about an absolutely massive RFA to re-sign. His best move was trading Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a first round pick in 2020. The pick ended up being Rodion Amirov. Dubas definitely fleeced the Penguins in my opinion, and cleared up a little cap space in the process. He let Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie walk, and acquired some awesome replacements. Let’s look at how the team will shake up below.
- Wayne Simmonds
- Zach Bogosian
- TJ Brodie
- Joe Thornton
- Jimmy Vesey
- Travis Boyd
- Aaron Dell
- Michael Hutchinson
- Joey Anderson
- Kasperi Kapanen
- Evan Rodrigues
- Cody Ceci
- Tyson Barrie
- Andreas Johnsson
- Frederik Gauthier
- Kyle Clifford
Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview
The Ontario boys were coming home this off season. Veterans Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds each signed one year deals with the team. Together with Jason Spezza, these three should provide a lot of valuable veteran leadership to the rest of the younger members of the team. Thornton and Matthews could be a very fun dynamic.
The team also signed Jimmy Vesey, who should also fit into the bottom six with Thornton, Simmonds, Spezza and Alexander Kerfoot. Nick Robertson, who made his debut in the Qualifying Round against Columbus could earn a full time spot in the lineup and be injected into the bottom six as well. The team picked up Travis Boyd, who has been a versatile call-up player for the Washington Capitals for a number of seasons. He may also see time in this bottom six.
The top six will comprise of Hyman, Matthews, Marner, Mikheyev, Tavares and Nylander. The team has switched up the combos a bit, but with Andreas Johnsson on his way out these are my picks for who’s in the top six. The only real new one is Ilya Mikheyev who really impressed the team and fans last season before his season was ended due to injury. He re-signed with the club and will be back.
Another Ontario boy, TJ Brodie was signed in the offseason. With Barrie and Ceci leaving they really needed some new faces. Brodie immediately improves this defensive corps. He had a bit of a down year points wise this season, but is a more competent defender than Barrie was. He plays right side and should play with Morgan Rielly, who was looking for a new partner with Ceci leaving. Speaking of Rielly, he should have top billing on the powerplay now with Barrie leaving. He will probably see a slight bump in production because of that.
Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl were a consistent pairing for the team, and played the most 5on5 minutes together out of any pairing combination. If they stick together that leaves Travis Dermott and Zach Bogosian to play together. Bogosian is coming off winning the Stanley Cup and playing with Viktor Hedman so I think he should be up to the task.
The team has youngsters Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren available. They also have Martin Marancin, Calle Rosen and free agent signing Mikko Lehtonen available to play if needed.
Dubas went out and acquired all the goalies, including Michael Hutchinson who he traded away in February to the Colorado Avalanche. Hutchinson had to start in the playoffs against Dallas and played alright, so maybe that inspired Dubas to get him back. He also picked up Aaron Dell, who had been backing up Martin Jones in San Jose. Dell had alright numbers on a really bad team last year in San Jose, so he may push Jack Campbell out of the backup role. Campbell and Dell are both relatively unproven in the league so it could realistically shake out either way.
Freddy Andersen will undoubtedly be the starter. He should start a few less games this year and be back in top form because of it.
Toronto Maple Leafs 2020-2021 Prediction
1st-2nd North Division
I really like the moves that Toronto made this off season and they have improved at forward, defense and goaltending depth. They had to make a coaching change last season, but with Keefe at the helm for a first (sort of) full season I’m optimistic. They have some huge offensive weapons and should be able to improve their ability to keep the puck out of their own net. They’ve also added some hungry veterans who are looking at one of their last shots at winning a Stanley Cup. The Maple Leafs should be a very strong team this season and I will be sure to circle the ten games they have against the Montreal Canadiens on my calendar.
That concludes our Toronto Maple Leafs 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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